April 18, 2016
The day had finally arrived! I qualified for the 2016 Boston Marathon at the Hudson Mohawk Marathon in October of 2014, on a perfect Upstate New York fall morning. Everything fell into place on that day, and I was able to cruise to a finishing time that qualified me to register for the race that I could only dream of running up to that point. In 2015, as late December rolled around, the time had come to begin my training for race day. I decided to actually follow a plan, something that would be new to me as far as training for a running event is concerned. I had big goals of trying to qualify again for Boston, at Boston. So I enlisted the help of Bart Yasso and followed his marathon training plan as a few of my fellow Locos had success doing the same. The months leading up to Boston went well for the most part. It was a mild winter, so running outside in the Northeast during the colder months was not unbearable at all. I even had running buddies to help with those long runs. Thanks Joe, Rob, Clay and Liam!! However, I did battle plantar fasciitis for the better part of my training. Blah blah blah….on to race morning.
At 9am in Hopkinton, Ma, the temperature was already 69 degrees. It was the perfect condition for a marathon in April….if you were spectating!!! Not ideal conditions if you are about to set out on a 26.2 journey. I was in Wave 2, which lined up for a 10:25 start time. By that time the temperature was already in the low 70s. This would prove to add to the already difficult challenge of tackling the course of the Boston Marathon. I had already decided to start taking my salt tablets early and often that day, but I did make a costly mistake and neglected to use sunscreen. It was time to head over to the wave starting corral, and you could feel the excitement in the air. As the national anthem was sung, I hung my head, took in the moment and gave thanks for even being able to run in this event. As I looked around every single runner was experiencing the same emotions. Before I knew it the starting gun went off, and my race day had officially begun.
As I started I kept hearing the advice from Joe, “start off slow, let all those amped up runners fly by you, you will be passing them on the Newton Hills.” I did my best for the first 3 miles to do just that. I quickly noticed the fan support that was along the entire race course, from mile one to 26.2, the support was amazing. I took it all in. I slapped high fives with as many kids I could and adults as well. It was easy to feed off of their energy!! By mile 4-5 I settled into my race goal pace and was able to maintain it for the first half marathon. I was on pace to hit my goal to requalify. But the second half of my Boston experience would prove to be a much different scenario. One which presented me with an opportunity to do more than just qualify, and where the real race reports begins.
Mile 13-14 I really started to feel the effects of the heat. I started taking in salt around mile 6, and drinking at every aid station. But there was just no relief from the sun. Hardly any shade on the course, I began running strictly on the far right side of the course as that provided me with some shade at various points that was cast off the surrounding buildings. At this point, I was beginning to realize that I may have to alter my race day goals. So I started walking through the aid stations beginning at mile 14. It was hot!! And the drinks were warm. But fans began to show up with bags of ice, sponges filled with ice water, kids were even handing out freezy pops!! I recall thinking how awesome their support was, especially since the actually marathon aid stations did not provide any of those items for relief. Recovering as best as possible at each aid station, I would then take off and settle back into my race pace. But I could feel my wheels quickly coming off.
Miles 15-16 I was sticking with my new race plan, recovering as much as possible, then running as close to my race goal pace as possible. At the aid station of mile 16 this would all change, and my race would take on an entirely new purpose. Walking through the aid station of mile 16, I turned to a fellow runner who was doing the same and made the comment, “man this heat is really killing me.” When she turned to look at me, she was crying, clearly upset that her day was not the one she had hoped for. Realizing she was in trouble, I walked with her for a bit and gave her the best pep talk that I could come up with at the moment. Using words of encouragement, she was able to pick up her pace and start running again. As I was about to take off, she asked me to stay with her, stating that she needed a friend. And in that moment, I realized that my Boston marathon experience just became so much more than trying to requalify, or even to post the best possible time on a challenging day. It was now about sticking with a fellow runner in a time of need, and trying to get us both to that magnificent finishing stretch on Bolyston Street.
Miles 17-22 This proved to be the most challenging 5 mile stretch I have ever experienced. Not only were we faced with tackling the Newton Hills and later of course Heartbreak Hill, we were battling the heat, cramps, the risk of dehydration and the mental challenge to just keep moving forward. My new friend Kim, and I would walk when she needed to, and ran when she could during this stretch. We shared stories along the way trying to keep our minds off of the struggle. The crowd support again was amazing. One cannot really describe what this does to a runner’s mentally, you have to experience it for yourself to truly understand its effect. And because of it by around mile 19 we were actually able to run at a steady pace again. But then just as we started to approach the city of Boston at mile 22, my running partner stopped dead in her tracks! Hands on her knees, head hanging down, I asked her if she was okay. “Just give me a minute..” When all of a sudden she projectile vomits three times!! Now I am sorry to be disgusting but it is an important part of the story. She was in trouble, she had salt deposits all along her hair line, and had just lost all of any nutrition that was in her body. We were not near an aid station, and we were both out of water in our hand held bottles. I turned to a Police woman behind me and told her that we may need to call a medic. Much to Kim’s displeasure she said she would be fine. I told her that she needed to replace those fluids then and I turned to the crowd and asked if anyone had water. Suddenly a woman in the crowd launches a full bottle to me! Kim quickly downs about 3/4’s of the bottle, stands straight up and says “wow I feel much better!” Now here is where the Boston spectator support played another important role. Having her name written on her arms in thick black marker, the fans arounds us witnessing her struggles, erupt and begin to cheer and encourage her by name!! Feeling the adrenalin, Kim and I take off running again!
Mile 23 to Bolyston – The energy level during this stretch was phenomenal. I knew teammates Joe and Kelly would be in the crowd somewhere at this point, so knowing Kim was feeling much better I started scanning the crowd as we approached the final stretch. Spotting them I ran over and we exchanged a few words as I tried to explain that my race goals had changed along the way. Then I was off. From that monent on, Kim would no longer need my support, she was clearly feeding off the crowd and was able to run the entire way to the finishline. And I took it all in, her amazing turn around, the crowds, the cheering, running past the Citgo Sign and Fenway park. And Finally that moment, the right turn on Hereford, left on Bolyston and looking down at that final stretch to the finish. Just even typing that now gives me the chills. There is nothing like the Boston Marathon Finishline, and I had just crossed it. I didn’t have the day I trained for, but I had an experience that I will never forget. My Boston marathon was not my personal best race time, not even close, but it was my personal best race. Faced with adveristy, and the chance to help a fellow runner, doing more in that moment is a challenge that I will accept everytime.